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‘Spirit of cricket’ called into question after fiery confrontation between players and fans results in suspensions

The Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) is institution that says it’s responsible for the “custodianship of the laws of the cricket” and on its website there is a section devoted to the sport’s “spirit.”

In it, the MCC highlights the respectful manner in which the sport should be played, notably: “Respect your captain, team-mates, opponents and the authority of the umpires … create a positive atmosphere by your own conduct, and encourage others to do likewise” and “show self-discipline, even when things go against you.”

On Sunday at Lord’s Cricket Ground – known as the ‘home of cricket’ and owned by the MCC – any idea of the “spirit” of the sport appeared to be in short supply.

Tensions were sparked after the controversial dismissal of England batter Jonny Bairstow on day five of the second Test of the 2023 Ashes series between England and Australia.

Bairstow had walked down the wicket thinking the over was finished, but Australian wicketkeeper Alex Carey threw the ball at the stumps and the England batsman had to be given out.

The incident, whilst not against the laws of cricket, divided many as to whether it went against the spirit of cricket, including many inside Lord’s.

Usually viewed as a welcoming and cerebral crowd, many spectators at Lord’s booed the Australian team throughout the remainder of the ill-tempered game, with some chanting: “Same old Aussies, always cheating.”

Those feelings of injustice then spilled over in arguably the very embodiment of Lord’s and the MCC: the ground’s Long Room.

The Long Room is one of sport’s most unique settings; a room filled with MCC members through which players of both teams have to travel to reach the playing area from their respective dressing rooms.

Usually a space where the most vociferous reactions are limited to applause or cheering – for both the home or away teams – videos on Sunday showed members booing and yelling “cheats” at the Australian players as they walked through the Long Room at lunch to reach their changing room.

“I wasn’t going to stand by and cop it, so I just talked to a few of them. A few of them were throwing out some pretty big allegations and I just called them up on it.”

The abuse continued to just before the stairs up to the teams’ dressing room, with batter Matt Renshaw seen pointing and laughing at one of the MCC members shouting abuse at the team.

In a statement, Cricket Australia alleged that members of the team were “verbally abused, with some being physically contacted, as they made their way to lunch through the members area.”

The MCC released a statement saying that it “unreservedly apologized” to the Australian team, later saying it had suspended three of its members identified involved in the confrontations, barring them from Lord’s while an investigation is carried out.

“We maintain that the behavior of a small number of Members was completely unacceptable and whilst there was no suggestion by Pat Cummins [Australia’s captain] in the post-match press conference that there was any physical altercation, it remains wholly unacceptable to behave in such a way, which goes against the values of the Club,” the statement said.

“MCC condemns the behavior witnessed and once again we re-iterate our apology to Cricket Australia. We are thoroughly disappointed to be talking about poor behavior when the Long Room, as stated by Pat Cummins himself, is otherwise renowned for being ‘really welcoming.’ It has been a thrilling day to finish off a wonderful five days of Test cricket.”

Australia captain Cummins highlighted how the treatment from the MCC members was different to years past in his post-match media conference after his team had won by 43 runs to take a 2-0 lead in the best of five Test series.

“I don’t think (the insults) hurts any more than normal,” he said. “I think just the standards that I guess are held by the members are maybe a bit different to what you’d expect from certain sections of let’s say the crowd at Edgbaston.”

Lord’s and, by extension, the MCC is renowned for being a bastion for grace and sportsmanship as the de facto home of cricket. They are tasked with writing the laws of the game and membership to the MCC is a highly-sought after, with a waiting list of about 29 years.

Indeed, on the MCC’s website, it says that: “Any action which is seen to abuse this Spirit causes injury to the game itself.”

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